As we enter the second half of preseason games there is really only one more contest in which we’ll see many of the Bills starters. The guys that have locked up spots will begin to rest and we’ll be able to see positional battles clear themselves up. As I did after the first game, I’m going to take a shot at predicting the 53 man roster using the game action and the week’s worth of practices to inform my decision. Just to clarify, this is not necessarily the 53 man roster that I believe to be the strongest combination of parts, but rather, the 53 man roster that I believe we are most likely to see.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Vince Young
When I did my first prediction, I considered the quarterback position to be a pretty solid lock. I got worried a bit after Vince Young’s slow start, but now after the Minnesota game, it seems as though the writing is on the wall for Tyler Thigpen.
Everybody knows Fitz is the Bills number one quarterback, and Vince Young’s strong performance with the second string offense in Minnesota distanced himself beyond Thigpen’s grasp. Young always had a serious edge in mobility and athleticism, and now that he seems to have learned the offense enough to be effective running it, it’s all she wrote for the number two job.
I think Thigpen will get released and the Bills will scan the final cuts across the rest of the NFL for a potentially talented QB to stash on the practice squad.
RB/ FB- 4
Fred Jackson, CJ Spiller, Tashard Choice, Corey McIntyre
My writing on the backs is beginning to get redundant, but there has been no reason for me to change my tune. We know Spiller and Jackson are locked into some sort of timeshare at running back. McIntyre is a solid lead blocker, but also a leader on special teams; two reasons why the Bills will keep him around. With few carries leftover after Spiller and Jackson have their fill, it’s realistic to believe the Bills would only keep one more back. Choice continues to get reps with the second team and was praised for great vision on his one-yard TD run against Minnesota. Johnny White was nowhere to be found.
Scott Chandler, Lee Smith, Dorin Dickerson
Many roster predictions that I have seen have the Bills only keeping two tight ends. I’m just not sure I see that right now. Chandler was a good find last year, but he’s not a proven commodity in the league. Having only Lee Smith backing him up, is putting a lot of weight on his shoulders.
Obviously, Chandler is locked in as the team’s starting tight end, and Lee Smith seems more and more likely to win the back-up job because of his blocking ability, but people are overlooking Dickerson. With three catches for 30 yards against Minnesota, Dickerson again proved that he can be a valuable receiving option. At 6’2” 230 pounds, with 4.4 speed, he provides Gailey with the kind of options that he loves for his offenses. Wanny also coached him at Pitt and knows what he can do, so I believe the match-up problems he creates will be too delightful for Gailey to pass up.
Steve Johnson, Donald Jones, David Nelson, TJ Graham, Derek Hagan, Brad Smith
Marcus Easley failed to catch a pass against Minnesota, and I think it’s safe to say that he’s spot on the roster bubble is becoming increasingly smaller. However, Naaman Roosevelt is moving in the opposite direction; he simply continues to get open. With six catches for 60 yards in the last preseason game, Roosevelt showed the sure hands that Fitzpatrick has been lauding since last season. He’s making a real push to secure a spot on this final team, I just think that the deck may be stacked against him.
The Bills are absolutely going to get Spiller and Jackson on the field at the same time this season. That means Spiller will be lined up out wide a lot. If the Bills keep Dickerson, which I think they will, he gives them another receiving target that won’t be listed as a true WR. That means even with six wide receivers, the Bills would have eight players who could line up out wide. That’s more than enough, even for Chan Gailey.
Of the six potential wide receivers on this list, five are an absolute lock. With the exception of an injury, there is no way the Bills don’t open the season with Johnson, Jones, Nelson, Smith and Graham on the roster. That leaves one spot open for Hagan or Roosevelt.
Hagan’s production this training camp and praise from Gailey lead me to believe that he steals the last spot. He played well for Buffalo at the end of the season last year and has true deep speed. He’s always had talent and his upside is certainly alluring.
Cordy Glenn, Kraig Urbik, Eric Wood, Andy Levitre, Chris Hairston, Erik Pears, Chad Rinehart, Mark Asper, Zebrie Sanders
There are really only two spots on this list that are even a question. Wood and Levtire are the Bills two most talented returning lineman and potential All-Pros. Glenn was a second-round draft choice; Urbik and Rinehart were both just re-signed this offseason, and in a battle for the starting RG position; while similarly re-signed Pears battles last years solid rookie, Hairston for the right tackle job.
That leaves the job of back-up center, a position that has been essential in recent years with Wood’s injury concerns. Asper and returning back-up center, Colin Brown, are almost identical on paper. They have the same height and weight, and similarly were moved from guard to center. Similar to the argument for keeping Choice on the roster, I don’t see why the Bills would have drafted somebody almost identical to Colin Brown if they liked what Brown was giving them. They were clearly looking for something more. Asper has experience in a fast-paced offense at Oregon and took to center quickly in mini-camps. If he can keep it up I think the job is his to lose.
However, the other spot is just a question of how well Zebrie Sanders plays. I was convinced earlier on that Sanders was a lock since he can play multiple positions on the line and Nix hates cutting recent draft picks. However, he has had a solid, but unspectacular preseason and the Bills may decide to go only two deep at each position.
Mario Williams, Kyle Williams, Marcel Dareus, Mark Anderson, Chris Kelsay, Dwan Edwards, Kyle Moore, Spencer Johnson
As has been reported by almost every source, the Bills decision to cut Merriman just made Kyle Moore’s hold on a roster spot seem that much firmer. Moore 6’6” 265 pounds and shows a real knack for getting after the quarterback. Gailey has spoken a lot about him needing to round out his game, but the silver lining is that his one skill, accumulating sacks, is one of the most important skills in the league..
Spencer Johnson also makes the team because of experience, and versatility. I’d love to see the Bills keep Alex Carrington because I think he was screwed around with the constant changing of positions and could be a very solid reserve, but I don’t see him lasting. His name just never seems to appear in the equation. Johnson, like Carrington, has played 4-3 DT, 3-4 DE and 3-4 OLB and has years of experience in the league. As a back-up, experience and versatility are arguably the two most important qualities.
The Bills could potentially keep nine lineman and add another DT like Kellen Heard or Torrell Troup, but Troup cannot stay healthy, and I just don’t seen enough upside in Heard.
Nick Barnett, Kirk Morrison, Kelvin Sheppard, Arthur Moats, Nigel Bradham, Tank Carder, Bryan Scott
I mentioned last time that I thought Bradham would take Morrison’s job halfway through the season. It appears as though Moats may have taken that job in training camp. A college DE, Moats has played everywhere in his stint with the Bills, but OLB might just be the best fit. Bradham possesses special teams prowess and position versatility, which I think is the same reason Carder makes the cut.
Now, depending on how far out of favor Morrison falls, Scott McKillop might stand a chance to make the team. McKillop is an ILB and Morrison plays outside, so they are by no means interchangeable as some people are making it seem. However, the Bills seem to like both Bradham and Carder more as OLB, so if they feel they have enough depth there, they might keep McKillop to be Sheppard’s primary back-up and let Morrison go.
Meanwhile, Bryan Scott has taken to the hybrid S/LB role used to shadow tight ends, and by all account is having a great offseason. His job is not in danger. Same goes for Barnett and Sheppard, who are good bets to be locked in starting spots.
Aaron Williams, Stephon Gilmore, Terrence McGee, Leodis McKelvin, Justin Rodgers, Ron Brooks
The Bills have made a concerted effort to improve their secondary over the last two years and have gotten dramatically younger. Last years second round draft pick, Williams, and this years first round pick, Gilmore, seem like locks to start on the outside. Early indications were that last year’s surprise, Rodgers, has taken command of the nickel job, but Ron Brooks has come on strong since preseason action began, and even McKelvin has been solid, forcing a fumble against the Vikings. Gailey thinks that McKelvin can use his natural athleticism better in the slot and Brooks has made plays in each practice, so it could be a race to the final day for that job.
That means Terrence McGee could be the odd man out. He still hasn’t been able to get meaningful reps on the field, but his injury is healing and he seems more likely to see time soon. I have a hard time believing he won’t make the final cut because he’s a valued veteran, has taken a paycut to remain in Buffalo, and can be a real mentor to the younger corners. I do think his days of real on field value are behind him though.
Jairus Byrd, George Wilson, Da’Norris Searcy, Delano Howell
I had expected that, with the Bills also keeping Scott as a hybrid S/LB, they would only carry three true safeties. Howell has started to make me change my tune. He’s come on very strong since preseason action began, learning to playbook almost instantaneously and proving to be a sure wrap-up tackler. Right now I think he’s done enough to earn a spot as a back-up. The rest of the three are locks with no explanation needed.
Ryan Lindell, John Potter, Brian Moorman, Garrison Sanborn
Most teams don’t usually carry two kickers, but the Bills drafted Potter because they believe that winning games is about field position. There is no shot that he takes Lindell’s job as the field goal kicker, but he can consistently put the ball through the opponents’ end zone on kickoffs. Not only does this back your opponents offense up, but it saves your special teams players from taking an unnecessary beating. That’s worth a roster spot.
Moorman is the Bills punter and Sanborn is their long snapper. It’s really that simple. Regardless of whom they bring in, Moorman keeps producing and he’s been with the team forever. The only way he goes is if he retires are experiences a drastic drop in production. Neither one happened this offseason.